NEW YORK — Longtime “Sesame Street” puppeteer Kevin Clash resigned Tuesday afternoon from the Sesame Workshop after a lawsuit was filed in New York District Court by a 24-year-old college student claiming that he engaged in a sexual relationship with Clash over a two-week period while he was underage.
The lawsuit marks the second allegation in as many weeks of Clash having a sexual relationship with a minor.
Appearing before a press conference Tuesday, Cecil Singleton said he had met the actor and puppeteer on a gay chat line and had sexual encounters with him over a two-week period while he was still underage.
Singleton also claimed that he had no idea at the time what Clash did for a living.
During the press conference, Singleton’s attorney, Jeff Herman, said he had been contacted by two other potential victims and expected additional legal actions to follow. The lawsuit seeks damages in excess of $5 million.
Clash’s exit followed claims made last week by another man in his early 20s that he also had a relationship with Clash when he was 16.
Clash denied that charge, calling it “false and defamatory.” The first accuser, identified by The Smoking Gun as 24-year-old “model/actor” Sheldon Stephens, retracted his claim the day after making the accusation, describing the relationship with Clash as adult and consensual.
Clash, who was the voice an puppeteer for the popular “Elmo” character,” said, in announcing his resignation, that “Personal matters have diverted attention away from the important work ‘Sesame Street’ is doing and I cannot allow it to go on any longer. I am deeply sorry to be leaving and am looking forward to resolving these personal matters privately.”
The Sesame Workshop, formerly known as the Children’s Television Workshop, a Worldwide American non-profit organization behind the production of several educational children’s programs, including PBS’ long-running “Sesame Street,” reacted Tuesday with this statement:
“Sesame Workshop’s mission is to harness the educational power of media to help all children the world over reach their highest potential. Kevin Clash has helped us achieve that mission for 28 years, and none of us, especially Kevin, want anything to divert our attention from our focus on serving as a leading educational organization.
Unfortunately, the controversy surrounding Kevin’s personal life has become a distraction that none of us want, and he has concluded that he can no longer be effective in his job and has resigned from Sesame Street. This is a sad day for Sesame Street.”
Since taking over the character in 1985, Clash turned “Elmo” into a major source of revenue for Sesame Workshop, generating more than half of the $75 million in annual sales for the Sesame Street toy line. He has served as the senior Muppet coordinator and Muppet captain, and in his 28 years with the Sesame Workshop, he has won 23 daytime Emmy awards and one prime-time Emmy.
Clash, 52, is divorced and the father of a grown daughter; he acknowledged publicly that he is gay when the first allegation against him was made.
It remains unknown who might take over performing as Elmo, however, other Sesame Street puppeteers have been trained to serve as his stand-in.
Sesame Workshop noted, “Elmo is bigger than any one person.”